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Which areas of the United States are most affected by lead water contamination?

March 01, 2022 3 min read

Which areas of the United States are most affected by lead water contamination?

Drinking water, whether tap or bottled, is expected to be filtered ahead of time to ensure it is safe for the consumer. The events in Flint, Michigan in 2016 proved this to be false, as lead, a metal known to have dangerous health effects, endangered the city through its prevalence in drinking water. 

Lead poisoning is known to have serious health effects for both adults and children, but even low exposure to lead is potentially disastrous in kids. Low lead exposure is linked to lowered IQs, ADHD, seizures, and behavioral problems in children. While children absorb a higher concentration of lead than adults, adults are also at risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and reproductive problems due to exposure. High levels of exposure to lead are often fatal. 

Across the United States, an estimated  6 to 10 million lead pipes are still being used to transport water into households, schools, and daycares. These pipes were originally installed in the early to mid-1900’s, and they are said to have a lifespan of one hundred years. Many of these pipes have begun corroding, which leads to flakes of lead entering the water supply and contaminating tap water. 

So, where in the United States is lead contamination a problem?

According to a survey by the Natural Resources Defense Council, “lead service lines (water pipes in the ground) are likely in use in every U.S. state.” They go on to state that over 56% of  the U.S. population drinks from water systems with detectable levels of lead. While most states experience the dangers of lead-polluted water, some cities and rural areas are more contaminated than others. The Northeast and upper Midwest–both rural and urban communities–feel the most negative effects of lead poisoning. Cities like Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and Milwaukee are currently making news for their rising lead crises, and old water pipes are to blame in almost all of those areas. 

For example, testing done in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Warren, Pennsylvania tested elevated blood levels due to lead contamination in children, called BLLs. Results found that 28% of kids in Milwaukee and 36% of children in Warren have concerningly high BLLs. These rates are higher than blood level counts at the peak of the Flint Michigan water crisis, yet nothing is being done to fix this problem.

Similarly, Newark, New Jersey was sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2018 to pressure their government into addressing their lead crisis. After a year of knowingly allowing their residents to drink contaminated water, New Jersey began its pipe replacement process due to the lawsuit. With over $500 million coming in from the state government, the state still does not have enough to fully replace their lead pipes without charging residents extravagant amounts of money. Nearly four years later, the state hopes President Biden’s infrastructure bill will help fund their pipe replacement plan. 

Lead contamination is an ongoing problem affecting over half of all households in the United States. While the federal government is pushing for change, it will take a long while before lead pipes are completely eradicated as water transport, and until then it is up to the individual to protect themselves from lead poisoning. Seychelle water filters are an inexpensive and effective way to protect oneself from lead in water. Seychelle filters are third-party tested to remove 99.9% of lead from water, ensuring that lead contaminants will stay out of your tap water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is lead exposure harmful?

Lead is always harmful, even at low levels. Lead is cited to cause lowered IQ scores and a decrease in academic achievement, attention span, hearing, and kidney function in children. In adults, exposure can lead to slower reaction times, mood swings, high blood pressure, and decreases in kidney and cognitive function. 

How does lead enter tap water?

Lead pipes are still common in most American cities to transport water. Water corrodes the pipes, which chips flakes of lead into the water supply. This water is then brought through the pipes into homes around the nation. 

How can lead exposure be avoided?

Experts suggest that lead exposure through tap water can be avoided on two different levels. On a government level, lead pipes need to be replaced to ensure lead does not enter the water to begin with. On an individual level, purchasing a water filter that filters out lead will eliminate lead exposure. 

Works Cited

Fox, Nick. “Thousands of U.S. Cities Have Worse Lead Problems Than Flint.”Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America, February 2017,https://www.lhsfna.org/thousands-of-u-s-cities-have-worse-lead-problems-than-flint/. Accessed 14 February 2022. 

Layne, Rachel. “Lead in America’s water systems is a national problem.”CBS News, 21 November 2018,https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lead-in-americas-water-systems-is-a-national-problem/. Accessed 14 February 2022. 

Mulvihill, Keith. “Causes and Effects of Lead in Water.”NRDC, 9 July 2021,https://www.nrdc.org/stories/causes-and-effects-lead-water#:~:text=High%20lead%20levels%20have%20been,isn't%20limited%20to%20cities. Accessed 14 February 2022.